June 3, 2016
GUEST WRITTEN BY MARCO SASSONE
Marco Sassone is a knighted Italian painter living in Toronto, whose fans and collectors include the late Ella Fitzgerald, Tina Turner, Sophia Lauren and the late Luciano Pavarotti. He is known for his intense landscapes and cityscapes that combine a heightened sense of colour with a gestural style of painting. His latest exhibit, Marco Sassone: His Boots and Other Works, opens June 9 in celebration of Italian Heritage Month at the Bata Shoe Museum. Here are his six places to eat, drink and live like an Italian in Toronto.
1. Sotto Sotto: Although Toronto offers a wide selection of Italian restaurants, I often prefer Sotto Sotto on Avenue Road for the authenticity of their Italian cuisine. Classic dishes here are not re-invented. They are prepared in their own glorious simplicity and served in a comfortable, cozy ambience. During my last visit, I enjoyed the Parmigiana di Melanzane, a dish I have been recommending to my friends since I relocated to Toronto in 2005.
2. Gelato: As summer eventually arrives in Toronto, I look forward to getting an ice cream on warm nights at Gelato on Cumberland: An ice cream from Italy, that is. Alessandro, the owner, has a boutique store in Rome near the Pantheon where his mother once served me the best scoop of pistachio and nocciola gelato I have ever tasted. Here too, the flavours are authentic in more ways than one. Be ready to stand in line on a Saturday night, as my wife and I have done on numerous occasions, for the simple pleasure of an authentic Italian gelato experience.
3. L’Espresso Bar Mercurio: There are not many places that come close to an Italian coffee shop in Toronto. It is not just the espresso and cappuccino that must be authentic – the look and feeling of the place are even more important. Bar Mercurio offers an excellent cappuccino and interesting sandwiches rich with Italian flavours for a casual lunch. The building has a wonderful light and airy feeling, featuring large windows on the south side of Bloor St. I often meet my friend Emanuele here for an espresso.
4. Italian Contemporary Film Festival: I always look forward to the Italian Contemporary Film Festival in Toronto, running June 9-17 this year at TIFF Bell Lightbox. It is a well-organized event providing Torontonians with the opportunity to view contemporary films made in Italy. One year I had the pleasure of meeting the director Giuseppe Tornatore. I look forward to the screening of his newest film, La Corrispondenza, and meeting Claudia Cardinale at this year’s closing party at the Ritz-Carlton!
5. Pusateri’s Fine Foods: If you are looking for a grocery store that offers unique produce and the foods of Italy, try Pusateri’s in Yorkville. It is a small store, and it’s always packed with people looking to experience Italian flavours here in Toronto. It reminds me of the grocery stores in Florence – not the supermarkets, but the types of places where you don’t mind rubbing shoulders with other shoppers that are compelled, like you, to purchase the perfect brand of pasta, or to pass through to the salumi counter where you may be enticed in the moment to order your preferred panino.
6. Zaza Espresso Bar: Now, this is a tiny spot on Yorkville Avenue. It is a hangout for many Italians to stand with their cappuccino inside or out on the sidewalk. I meet my friend Nicola here for an espresso, watching people go by and catching up on the recent soccer news from Italy. You may run into Sebastian Giovinco, the one-time Juventus FC soccer player now playing for the Toronto FC. I suggest you try Zaza for its authenticity as a change from the common coffee shop chains that resemble an office environment.